The U.S. Supreme Court has finally cast down the 4th Amendment and harkened back to the police powers of 1772. In last week’s Kentucky v King ruling, an 8-1 Court decided that it was okay to break in a door because they smelled marijuana, their “police knock” went unanswered, and they heard sounds of what they believed was evidence being destroyed. Rather than going to get a warrant, they smashed the door in.
The interesting legal question begins with the fact that the Court has ruled police cannot create an “exigent circumstance” (and emergency situation allowing them to disregard a warrant). It has also been decided that “destruction of evidence” is an exigent circumstance. Even so, they have previously stated that the failure to pursue a warrant must be an extreme and rare occasion. So the question is whether a police knock prompted what the police believe was destruction of evidence, or in other words: was there any risk that evidence would be destroyed while they applied for a warrant?
Officer Steven Cobb, one of the uniformed officers who approached the door, testified that the officers banged onthe left apartment door “as loud as [they] could” and announced, “‘This is the police’” or “‘Police, police, police.’” … Cobb said that “[a]s soon as [the officers]started banging on the door,” they “could hear people inside moving,” and “[i]t sounded as [though] things were being moved inside the apartment.” ... These noises, Cobb testified, led the officers to believe that drugrelated evidence was about to be destroyed.
At that point, the officers announced that they “were going to make entry inside the apartment.” Cobb then kicked in the door, the officers entered the apartment,
This rationale, that the police did not violate the 4th Amendment prior to kicking the door in, would justify doors being kicked in of every house where a toilet flushes. No word on whether smoking marijuana justifies “destruction of evidence,” thus potential smoking (by America’s millions of users) would justify millions of trampled doors.
The Circuit Court concluded that the officers had probable cause to investigate the marijuana odor and that the officers “properly conducted [the investigation] by initially knocking on the door of the apartment unit and awaiting the response or consensual entry.” Exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry, the court held, because “there was no response at all to the knocking,” and because “Officer Cobb heard movement in the apartment which he reasonably concluded were persons in the act of destroying evidence, particularly narcotics because of the smell.”
The irony here is that no evidence was destroyed. Whatever “movement” the police heard was considered destruction of evidence. It is like the supposition that whatever a politician says, they are lying, just because the listener believes it so. And now, the potential destruction of marijuana (did they hear a lighter being clicked?) is on par with someone in grave physical danger.
Justice Ginsberg, speaking on behalf of all strict Constitutionalists, Conservatives, Revolutionaries Libertarians, Liberals, and Tea Partiers alike, was the lone voice of reason in her Dissent. She notes that this case directly overturns a precedent of the Supreme Court:
In Johnson, the Court confronted this scenario: standing outside a hotel room, the police smelled burning opium and heard “some shuffling or noise” coming from the room. … Could the police enter the room without a warrant? The Court answered no. Explaining why, the Court said:
“The right of officers to thrust themselves into a home is . . . a grave concern, not only to the individual but toa society which chooses to dwell in reasonable security and freedom from surveillance. When the right of privacy must reasonably yield to the right of search is,as a rule, to be decided by a judicial officer, not a policeman . . . .
. . . . . “If the officers in this case were excused from the constitutional duty of presenting their evidence to a magistrate, it is difficult to think of [any] case in which [a warrant] should be required.”
This ruling of the 2011 Court is another indicator of the encroaching police state, the lack of “checks and balances,” and the ability of toothless logic to craft a ruling however one wishes. Traffic stops have long since been eroded of any 4th Amendment protections, but now it is clear that the Drug War has destroyed the very liberty the American patriots died to create.
Courts tend to note how “difficult” that a police officer’s job is, thus justifying free reign in all aspects… yet with free reign to patrol America’s streets, is it truly that difficult?
This case is remanded back down to the Kentucky Supreme Court, to decide if “hearing sounds” justifies a belief that evidence was being destroyed. Based on their prior ruling, it is reasonable to believe that Hollis King has a chance at liberty and constitutional protections. As for now, the lesson is if police come to your door, say nothing, don’t move, turn the “recorder” on your phone, and NEVER FLUSH THE TOILET.